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How could you tell if a Scrum Master is not doing their job well?

That’s a tricky one because Scrum Master’s don’t have tangible output.

The product delivered at the end of each sprint cycle isn’t on the scrum master, it’s on the development team that created it.

So, we wouldn’t be asking the question of whether the product is going well, we would be evaluating whether the environment is improving. Are the team becoming better with each sprint or are they stagnating? Are the team collaborating well together and are they getting better as a cohesive unit?

The problem for Scrum Masters is that they are working in such complex, interdependent and interlinked spaces that its hard to isolate exactly what metrics would best measure a scrum master’s performance.

A scrum master could be doing a great job and the team could still be underperforming because of organisational policies and bottlenecks. Sure, you could measure how effectively the scrum master is removing those impediments but often Scrum Masters don’t have the authority to make policy or solve bottleneck issues.

They need to work with people in the team and people within the organisation to help resolve those issues. They coach. They consult. They communicate. But they aren’t able to remove those impediments by themselves.

Influence versus Authority.

So, again, it’s hard to pin that on the scrum master given the complexity of the situation.

At this point, you should have picked up that it is incredibly complicated to discern whether a scrum master is doing a great job or not because they might be doing their best and nothing is changing.

On the flip side, they might be doing nothing, and nothing is changing. In some cases, they might be doing nothing and yet the team is improving and delivering better outcomes in each sprint.

So, to effectively guage how well a scrum master is doing, we need to look at what they do and how well they do that.

A scrum master is a coach. They are someone who partners with, challenges, and supports a scrum team as well as the broader organisation.

Are they having critical conversations with their teams? Have they coached the teams to the point where individuals on those teams are having critical conversations with each other, regardless of whether the scrum master is present or not?

Are they fostering an environment where challenging thoughts and ideas is a good thing? Are they fostering an environment where people understand that thinking through the problem from as many diverse perspectives as possible is a great way to nurture innovation and opportunity?

Have they created an environment where psychological safety is of paramount importance?

We’re looking at the results of their work. We’re looking to understand whether the desirable outcomes that foster great teamwork are present because of the scrum master’s contribution.

So, when you engage scrum masters and agile coaches, you need to be very clear about how you are going to measure their performance and contribution.

They need to understand whether they can directly influence those variables or whether they are interdependent with others in moving the needle on those variables. Are there organisational impediments that exist which might prevent them from being effective in those areas?

It helps if we use the variables to point us in the direction of a conversation.

A conversation that helps everyone understand what the measures are, how they impact the team, and why it’s incredibly important that the scrum master or agile coach excels in these areas.

You could also have a conversation with the product owner and members of the development team to understand whether they feel they are better or worse off because of the presence of the scrum master and the contribution that is made.

Do they believe their environment is better or worse because of the Scrum Master’s contribution?

A great measure of a Scrum Master is their resilience in resolving issues and impediments to the team’s progress. Often, the issue or impediment may not be resolved on the first attempt.

Is the scrum master willing to take ownership of that issue and work with people throughout the organisation to resolve the impediment on the team’s behalf?

Are they willing to step up and persist with the actions necessary to remove those impediments?

Are they willing to step outside of their comfort zone in order to make the team better and create an environment where the team can excel?

Are they willing to go and talk to heads of departments and directors of the organisation to try and resolve problems or secure opportunities for growth and improvement?

Are they willing to go to the board, if that’s what it takes, to get a responsible and reasonable answer to the most compelling questions and problems a team may face?

It’s a matter of resilience. Do they step up each and every day and try to make the world around them a better place to work and thrive? Will they persist, day in and day out, regardless of how long it takes to achieve the team’s goals and objectives?

Organisations can be very complex and slow. It can take a long time to make an impact and resolve an issue or unblock an impediment.

You may even find that members of the wider organisation who are not involved in scrum are opposed to agile as a way of working and actively resist efforts to become more agile in their way of thinking and working.

It can be a very tough environment for a scrum master to work and despite all of their efforts, they might get very little done.

You must take these factors into consideration when evaluating a scrum master’s contribution.

We also need to look at the data. We need to look at whether a scrum master is investing their time and efforts into areas that make sense? Do they have hypotheses that they are exploring and actively seeking to prove or disprove?

How are they making decisions about where they can best invest their skills, time and effort to serve the team as well as the organisation?

Are they seeking to nurture relationships within the scrum team and the wider organisation that will help create an environment where others can excel? Do they invest time and effort in their own self-development and continuous improvement? Do they live and breathe Agile values and principles?

Do the team believe that their scrum master is doing the best job they can to make the environment a place where others can succeed? Do they believe that the scrum master is doing the best job they can to resolve problems or remove impediments?

There are a great deal of factors that you could look at but it makes sense to define what measures are important for the scrum master to achieve and evaluating how effective the scrum master is in moving the needle on those measures.

When the needle isn’t moving, evaluate whether the scrum master is trying to actively move the needle and understand what impediments they may face in achieving goals and objectives.

That would be my advice when it comes to evaluating whether a scrum master is doing a great job or not.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you are a scrum master and want to level up, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate those professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master course page.

If you like the idea of mentored and coach-driven skills development, visit our Agile Coach Academy.

If you have identified coaching as an important skill to develop, visit our on-demand Introduction to Coaching course page.

For more information on John McFadyen, visit https://www.johnmcfadyen.com

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